Afraid of the Good
Several years ago, after I actually started taking steps to treat my depression, I slowly came to the realization that part of me was resisting the change. Yes, a part of it was the bravery required in trying new things during the process of recovery. And yes, a very large portion of it was hopelessness for the future. But as time went on and both of those things began to wane, I still felt some reluctance. Some fear of getting better. It’s taken me quite some time to try to make any sense of it at all because it quickly becomes a recursive loop of fear.
In a small way, it feels a bit like Stockholm syndrome, or at least vaguely resembles it. Depression and self-loathing almost killed me, but in a very strange way, they also saved me. Because of them, I left a situation that I found unbearable, but what made the situation unbearable was the depression and self-loathing that it created. In a strange sense, depression and self-loathing saved me from more intense depression and self-loathing. The result is this odd affection I have for depression (and self-loathing to a lesser extent) because it’s reliable and I know what to expect, even if what I expect is horrible. Leaving would mean new pains, new experiences that are unfamiliar and thus freshly terrifying.
But there was also something else. Something much more tangible that made me uncomfortable just to try to think of my life without depression. It was as though I actually felt that something of value would be lost.
During the first few weeks philosophy course in college -an Ethics class- I offered an answer to a question that was posed to the class, to which the professor replied “You’ve become cynical at a young age.” I was rather pleased and took it as a compliment. That’s the first time I remember ever being proud of what depression and self-loathing had done to me. Of how they had effected me. Truly, I still hated them as a whole and wished more than anything to be rid of them and the sense of pride certainly wasn’t an even trade off, but it was something.
It’s an odd sense of pride because that self-loathing was still there. I still felt that I was fundamentally flawed and literally good for nothing, yet I also felt that that cynicism and detachment helped give me a good look at the human condition. I was able to accept the harsh truths that others would shy away from because I had been forced -or coerced- to accept much harsher truths about myself. There was no fedora present, despite a shift in religion being involved; I never saw myself as “enlightened” or better than others. It was just a matter of differing circumstances; other people were too busy with their loved ones, hobbies, interests and happiness to need to be constantly caught up in cynicism and doubt. I had all the time in the world for such things.
I was attached to being detached. After being enduring so many hopeless nights, I was proud that I was not one to complain about sleeping on just a mattress when my bed frame broke. I was proud to be the person who didn’t care if his drive through order was correct as long as there was food in the bag. I was proud of minimalism, of rolling with whatever happened, of not being bugged often. I wasn’t proud of how I had got to that point, that it wasn’t a choice but rather the result of overwhelming hopelessness, but I was at least proud being at the point where trivial material things and conditions did not contribute to my overall unhappiness.
I was, and still am, afraid to let that go. In a sense it feels as though I’ve worked for this strange sense of what some would call “peace”, even though that’s hardly the case. But it feels as though I’ve earned it by my suffering. That, if I get better, I’ll start to deal with these shallow problems that I felt were…..not “beneath me”, but perhaps at least “behind me”. This detachment was and still is so much a part of my identity and as much as I feel inhuman much of the time presently, I guess I am much more afraid of feeling as though I have no identity at all. Even though my dance with cynicism has been often more harmful than helpful, the good aspects feel as though they are all that I have to show for the hardest years. If they fall away as I get better, what were all those years for? Would I simply continue to live life, as if they had never happened?
More recently, I’ve slowly been trying to come to terms with that last question and just how much it keeps me stuck living in the past. I’ve been able to realize that, yes, hopelessness can actually provide a ton of insight. It removes a lot of motivation to complain, to whine, and to expect anything. But I’ve learned that one still has to expect some things, because that’s how fulfillment works.
I can, despite being very lonely, believe that I’m almost entirely unlikable and thus feel that it’s pointless to socialize. But if I stop and am able to think of the near future where maybe I’m a little less lonely (and believe me, it’s taken a long time just to be able to have that thought), I realize that if there’s any chance for that future to happen at all, I have to socialize. I have to put myself in that situation even if I don’t believe anything is going to happen; even if I believe that it’s not going to happen. There’s absolutely no guarantee that it will happen, or what might be required if it could, but if there’s any chance at all that it can, I have to keep doing things that I think would move me in the right direction some amount.
This makes it sound much, much simpler and easier than it really is. I really hate phrases like “think positive” and “fake it ‘til you make it”, along with every phrase that can be stuck on a motivational poster. Because while there’s some truth in them, they’re really just bumper stickerifications of an actually helpful idea. I can’t make myself believe something just because I want to, I truly believe that. But I can set up things for my mind to bounce off of in hopes of guiding it in the direction I’d like it to go.
My therapist recently used the words “acting contrary to feelings”. I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have the feelings, or try to reason with them, or ignore them, or shape them by sheer will. I can be aware of them and understand that they’re there to protect me, but that right now they’re not helping and so I’ll have to do actions that contradict them. And (I believe) that it’s not feelings vs actions; bad vs good. The feelings will be there and that’s ok, and the actions are not necessarily a “cure” for the feelings. They’re just stepping stones, tools I must use to put myself in the position for good and better things to happen.
It’s been a long-winded post and I don’t feel that I’ve been able to express everything perfectly, but then my intention is not to express a perfect thought. It’s been difficult enough for me to try to come to terms to myself, much less put into words that others can comprehend. Recent literature I’ve been reading has said that traumatized individuals tend to feel as though they are inhuman or not all there, and my hope is that this post and its contents is a mark of growth for me. That it’s just one step on the path towards my prodigal personal identity.